Reaction to Transport in Autumn Statement 2017

(Image Source: Getty)

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Key industry figures comment on transport within the Autumn budget 2017 below: 

David Leam, Infrastructure Director, London First

Against a backdrop of dispiriting numbers on productivity and growth, there were nonetheless reasons for English cities to be cheerful in this Budget.

A £1.7 billion Transforming Cities Fund will support intra-city transport projects, with half allocated on a per capita basis to the 6 combined authorities with metro mayors outside London and the rest allocated via competition. A first best approach would be to let cities and regions keep more of their own tax revenues to spend as they see fit, but failing more radical devolution allocating money to metro mayors on this per capita basis rather than through a bidding round is a significant improvement. This announcement also shows that those areas yet to adopt the metro mayor model (particularly in Yorkshire) risk falling down the pecking order.

Support for new trains on the Tyne & Wear Metro, and confirmation of £300m to future proof HS2 infrastructure in the north and Midlands, will also be welcomed as steps in the right direction for more balanced regional investment. Attention will now turn to the content of Transport for the North's upcoming Strategic Transport Plan. The Chancellor's backing of investment in the Cambridge – Milton Keynes – Oxford corridor, represents further powerful support for the work of Lord Adonis and the National Infrastructure Commission.

Closer to home, I was encouraged to see Crossrail 2 namechecked in the Chancellor's speech and accompanying red book. The government has accepted the need for continued investment in London's infrastructure to support growth, and the debate about Crossrail 2 is now firmly about how to fund and finance it. This won't be without controversy, but credible funding options exist, and business remains committed to doing its bit to help construct a fair and affordable funding package.

Jim Steer, Director, Steer Davies Gleave

Ouch! Gloomy growth forecasts for the next five years, and precious little that's new on transport investment: not a great portent for a sector about to be exposed to lots of technology driven change. But I see reasons to be cheerful.

For a start, there's a recognition that cities and the regions need nurturing with new (albeit limited) money and powers. Step forward the new City-region mayors. True London doesn't get any favours – no Crossrail 2, for instance, but in truth, it's got Crossrail 1 and Thameslink about to launch. Too early too for Northern Powerhouse Rail, but Hammond's language suggests Treasury knows it's coming.

And while the macro-economics look weak, the intent on housing policy – if (big if) it translates into the house-building revival described – will surely itself be an economic stimulant. And more housing brings with it the need for transport investment. It would have been good to see more emphasis on sustainability criteria favouring higher intensity, transit-based, housing but then the standard household models of car ownership and use are disappearing fast of their own volition. The next generation will look to what's available by the hour, by the minute.

Steve Gooding, Director, RAC Foundation

Phew. So, it wasn't that bad after all.

In fact, motorists – diesel drivers in particular - have reason to think today's Budget was as good as could have reasonably been expected.

Despite the lurid headlines and advance warnings there was no change in fuel duty. It remains at 57.95p per litre for both petrol and diesel, the level it's been frozen at since March 2011. Though don't feel too sorry for the Chancellor as he still collects two-thirds of what we pay at the pumps in tax (duty and VAT combined).

Nor was there any broad, indiscriminate attempt to penalise all diesel users – 12 million private car owners, 4 million van drivers and the operators of 500,000 lorries, not to mention buses and coaches - to raise money to pay for improvements in air quality.

Instead Philip Hammond sought to place the financial burden not on those people who had already bought the now-demonised technology in good faith, but on those who might think of doing so in the future.

Even then he applied a light touch, with showroom tax bills for purchasers of small diesels set to rise by only around £20. The automotive industry might groan that the move will further depress the new diesel-car market but in the circumstances it could have been a lot worse and demonstrates that the Chancellor has at least some sympathy for those automotive manufacturers who have invested heavily in what are the cleanest diesels ever.

Alongside this relatively-small stick Mr Hammond also wielded a rather-large carrot for those thinking of getting away from fossil fuels and going ultra-green. Recognising that electric cars must be both affordable and useable, he extended his commitment to the plug-in car grant – which is shrewd given that since the scheme started in 2011 still only 122,000 people have applied for the cash – and to providing a public recharging network to be proud of. We hope the money will be spent on chargers that are of the right power and speed, and sighted in the right locations.

The one thing missing from the budget document was any mention of a diesel scrappage scheme. The PM had all but promised one earlier this year but it had clearly fallen by the wayside in the intervening period. It seems that someone in government had read our series of reports which showed that a cost-effective scrappage programme was all but impossible to design.

As I said, it could have been worse. Much worse.

Ed Thomas, Head of UK Transport, KPMG

The cancellation of the Cardiff to Swansea, Midland Mainline and Lake District electrification schemes in July was met with widespread criticism in the regions. Today's announcement of a £1.7bn Transport Fund for Local Transport priorities, £300m for rail connections into HS2 and funding for the Tyne and Wear Metro rolling stock will be seen to go some way to redress the balance. Further devolution deals in England and new city deals in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland could also give the nation's major cities more levers to deliver their own transport investment strategies. However, whilst the new money will be welcomed, many will still question whether it is of the scale necessary to close the UK's regional productivity gap and genuinely rebalance the economy.

London will welcome the additional flexibility that full business rates retention will give it to fund and finance transport infrastructure. However, the announcement that work will continue on Crossrail 2 will be seen as a neutral statement, rather than an explicit green light for the scheme to progress to the next stage.

There was also evidence that Government is being more explicit around the linkages between housing, transport and the forthcoming Industrial Strategy White Paper. Building on last week's report by the National Infrastructure Commission, a clear connection was made between the proposed additional million homes in the Oxford-Milton Keynes-Cambridge corridor and investment in new rail and road links along it. Whilst no new money was announced today, the scale of this housing ambition is likely to mean that Government will ultimately support the East-West rail and roads schemes that are under development with public funding. Previously it had been looking to purely privately funded solutions.

Stephen Joseph OBE, Chief Executive, Campaign for Better Transport

There's a lot of good things in this budget, such as the city transport investment and an emphasis on high density housing in cities, as well as extra taxes on premium air fares. There's also some good news in the detailed documents, such as new rail investment in the Oxford-Cambridge corridor and a new all-encompassing study on freight transport, which often gets ignored, by the National Infrastructure Commission.

But all this can't cancel out the fact that yet again the Chancellor has ducked the challenge on transport costs. By not raising fuel duty, even for diesel, he has caved into short term pressures from the road lobby at the expense of serious action on air pollution. Of course, the extra tax on new diesel cars will help and the new Clean Air Fund is welcome, but while nothing is done about fuel duty, cities will be running uphill to really tackle the pollution they face.

This is especially frustrating since at the same time the Budget has nothing serious on rail fares, so there will be high increases in the New Year and no real reform for a complex system. The so-called Millennial railcard, while welcome, will do nothing for this. The Budget also ignores everyday transport - tackling the backlog on local roads and supporting bus services. So while the Budget says lots of the right things, the failure to act on fuel duty leaves it lacking.